From tennis to horses, female is a cool gender

Sep 8, 2009 5:03 PM
Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein |

We both know that college fotball is back because in the very first week the thuggery and muggery reappeared, this time in the form of star Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, who cold-cocked Boise State’s defensive end Byron Hout, who was knocked to his knees by the unexpected punch, with his hands at his side. ESPN made sure the nation saw it, over and over, last Friday, with remarkable clarity and camera work.

Blount is a senior, 6-2 and 240. Hout is a sophomore, 6-1 and 225, so presumably it could have been a contest if Hout had his hands up and was fighting. Oregon’s coach, Chip Kelly, reportedly cried with Blount in the locker room after the incident, saying Blount would retain his football scholarship and practice with the team, but not play. He said Blount was "taking this very hard and he understands that he made a mistake." He understood that seconds after the punch, as he backpedaled quickly in retreat when Boise players and coaches surged toward him.

While Kelly left the door open for a change of heart, Oregon’s president, Richard Lariviere, showed less compassion. He slammed the door shut, ending Blount’s college career, banning him for the rest of the season, saying, "We do not and will not tolerate the actions that were taken by our player. Oregon’s loyal fans expect and deserve better."

Blount might find consolation in pro football, which welcomes sluggers and hard hitters. An announcement this week said four of its graduates, all modest nonentities in the NFL, are taking up professional extreme fighting. If you’re going to do it, you might as well get paid for it, as hookers learned years ago.

On a happier note, America has a new sports hero. Or heroine.

She is Melanie Oudin (pictured), 17, full of confidence and fancy footwork, a tigress at 5-6.

In an age of big, powerful women, like the Williams sisters, who serve at 120-125 miles an hour and hit a tennis ball as hard as most men, Melanie may seem disadvantaged physically.

If she is, no one has convinced her of it, and no one has intimidated her. Not the taller Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who was number 1 in junior tennis where Melanie was ranked number 2, but whom Melanie crushed 6-1, 6-2 in the first round of the U.S. Open last week. Not Jelena Jankovic, formerly number 1 in the world, whom she beat at Wimbledon, nor fourth ranked Elena Dementieva, whom she dispatched last week at Forest Hills. And not another former number 1, the much publicized Russian beauty Maria Sharapova, who fell to Melanie in the third round last Saturday.

This kid loves the crowds, and although her boy friend calls what has happened to her recently "awesome," she hardly seems overwhelmed. She may not be ready for the Williams sisters just yet, but despite her shortness she cast a long shadow across the tennis world last week.

And then, of course, there was another youthful star, far younger than Melanie Oudin, beating older and bigger foes last week. And males at that.

Rachel Alexandra is only three, but arguably now is the best filly ever in thoroughbred racing. She was excited going to the post in the Woodward last week, perhaps by the 31,000 cheering for her, and she threw jockey Calvin Borel. But neither she nor Borel was flustered enough to prevent her from withstanding a furious stretch rush by the 4-year-old Macho Again to win and score her ninth consecutive victory, three of them against top male horses.

Turf writer Bill Finley wrote last week that Rachel Alexandra was racing not only the field of males at Saratoga, but against the ghost of Ruffian, generally considered the best female ever to race. But as Finley pointed out, Ruffian never beat male horses, and died trying in her fatal match race against Foolish Pleasure.

The only barrier now to Rachel Alexandra winning Horse of the Year honors is the undefeated 5-year-old Zenyatta. She too has been sensational, but her accomplishments do not measure up to those of Rachel Alexandra, and it is not likely that a match race will occur between the two of them, huge draw that it would be.

Until then it is take your pick, and while we deeply respect the brilliance of Zenyatta and her dominance of the west coast, we are awed by the unwillingness of Rachel Alexandra to be beaten. She showed that heart and determination last Saturday holding off Macho Again by a head. She became the first filly ever to win the Woodward in its 59 runnings, and she is in our view the greatest thoroughbred filly of all time.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Stan Bergstein